The Loop

A fitting ending for Purdue, Caroline Hedwall

WILMINGTON, N.C.—The scene behind the 18th green at CC of Landfall Friday afternoon was unusual to say the least. Purdue had just won an historic NCAA Women's Championship, holding on to beat USC by one stroke at CC of Landfall when Trojan sophomore__Jennifer Song just missed a 10-foot birdie putt that would have caused forced a two-team playoff. When the putt grazed the left edge of the cup, it was as if the Boilermakers didn't know how to react. There was no jumping for joy or even any high fives. Instead, there were silent smiles from Maude-Aimee LeBlanc,Numa Gulyanamitta,Laura Gonzalez-Escallon, Thea Hoffmeister__ and Paula Reto toward each other as if to say "Did this really happen?"

Conversely the Trojans' emotions weren't hard to interpret. Tears ran down the faces of the USC golfers, their dream of winning a third national title for their school in seven years falling one tantalizing stroke shy of becoming a reality.

"It was just really upsetting that we have to come in second place as a team and that's how it's going to end," said Song, the reigning U.S. Women's Amateur and Public Links champion set to turn professional this summer. For the second straight year at nationals, she had walked off the 72nd hole trying to dry her eyes, a fate the thoughtful 20-year-old doesn't deserve.

So what to make of the 29th NCAA Championship? For some time now I've been saying that women's college golf has grown deeper but has yet to achieve true parity. With the Boilermakers becoming the first northern school to win a national championship, such an assessment might be in need of change. My previous argument was that somebody other than the Pac-10s "Big Three" (USC, UCLA and Arizona State) or the beast of the East (Duke) needed to claim the title to truly suggest a paradigm shift. Thanks to the Boilermakers, such a benchmark has been achieved.

I can't help but think that the victory was vindication for Purdue coach Devon Brouse, who after 21 seasons coaching at North Carolina, answered the clarion call of his alma mater in 1998, assuming the coaching roles for the women's and men's squads in West Lafayette, Ind. Apparently you can go home again, as the 61-year-old Brouse helped oversee the building of the Birck Boilermaker Golf Complex, a model on-campus facility that includes one of the best college course's in the country (the Kampen Course) as well as a state-of-the-art practice area the envy of any program, degardless of locale.

More importantly, Brouse established a pair of golf programs practically from scratch.

"We knew when we hired him that he was the right person for the job," said Nancy Cross, a senior associate athletic director at Purdue and the chair of the NCAA Division I Women's Golf Committee. "His ability to coach and change behavior was something that set him apart. He's a phenomenonal coach."

In previous years, Brouse might have had more talented players. Look back only 12 months ago, when senior Maria Hernandez claimed the individual title while enjoying the single best year in school history. Still, the 2009-10 edition of the Boilermakers has to be considered his best "team," and not just because it claimed the NCAA title.

"As a coach to say you lose a first-team All-American, national player of the year [and you might be better] is hard to fathom," Brouse said. "But I knew we would have a great team if the freshmen stepped up. I felt like 1-2-3 with Maude, Numa and Laura, we could match up well with anyone."

Such a belief was tested only a few weeks earlier when Purdue was outclassed by both USC and Arizona State at the Central Regional. Brouse admits that going through finals the week before the tournament left his team ill-prepared for the event, something he was determined would not happen come nationals.

"It got our team's attention," Brouse said. "We went home and had the best practice we've ever had."

The hard work showed during Purdue's impressive third-round performance at Landfall, the team shooting an eight-under 280 to vault from third to first place. Afterwards, Brouse instructed his charges to celebrate, but only for an hour, and then focus on the final round.

"We didn't come here to play a three-round event," Brouse said. "We came to play all four rounds."

With the final 18 holes complete in the early evening Friday, and the championship trophy in his players hands, there was no time limit put on this celebration. This one would last all night long.

After claiming medalist honors with a final-round 68 and a 12-under 276, Caroline Hedwall confirmed what most had suspected. The Oklahoma State sophomore had competed in her final college event. The 21-year-old told Golf World she will remain an amateur through the fall, playing for her native Sweden as it attempts to defending its title at the Women's World Amateur Team Championship, but she won't be back in Stillwater.

"She's ready for the next level," said OSU coach Annie Young, who noted the decision had been made all the way back in February. "Just look at how she played this spring."

Indeed, Hedwall didn't finish worse than T-4 in eight starts since February, winning the Big 12 title by eight strokes before taking the NCAA title while tying the championship's 72-hole scoring mark.

Truth be told, Hedwall could have gone even lower. In both her second and third rounds, she actually struggled getting the ball in the hole, her putting confounding her at times. Nevertheless, she managed to beat runner-up Jennifer Johnson of Arizona State by four strokes. Following the championship, Hedwall was named NGCA national player of the year

Hedwall's spring semester was even more compelling when you consider the situation back in Stillwater. On a roster with four freshmen, Hedwall knew she had little margin for error if her team was to have the change to advance to either NCAA Regionals or the national championship.

"She's played awesome," Young said. "I don't know she thinks about it as pressure as much as she just takes the team and puts it on her back. She's a great leader."

One who no doubt will be missed come September.